Iran v USA: Flag row, warships and political tensions mar tense press conference ahead of World Cup clash in Qatar

Nothing about this World Cup has been straightforward, with the political tensions and rows around Qatar hosting the tournament proving a constant distraction from on-field events.

It was always going to be the case, but such tensions have been slowly drifting into manager and play press conferences, with the Iran v USA press conference proving to be the most tense yet.

Iran have generated headlines in Qatar for their powerful protests against the regime in the country following shows of support for the protest movement that has roiled Iran since the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody in September. There were emotional scenes during the anthem at the Wales game, and the players not singing the anthem in their opening match against England which saw fans hold up signs saying "Woman, Life, Freedom".

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Qatar organisers have been preventing Iranian fans from displaying any old Iranian flags or signs and T-shirts with the "Woman Life Freedom" slogan of the protesters at World Cup games.

USA manager Gregg Berhalter during a press conference at the Main Media Centre in Doha, Qatar. Picture date: Thursday November 24, 2022.USA manager Gregg Berhalter during a press conference at the Main Media Centre in Doha, Qatar. Picture date: Thursday November 24, 2022.
USA manager Gregg Berhalter during a press conference at the Main Media Centre in Doha, Qatar. Picture date: Thursday November 24, 2022.

The crunch tie takes place in Qatar tonight, but all eyes have been on the off the pitch antics.

Here’s what you need to know following a rather bizarre press conference.

Iran protests – what are they?

Protests have been sparked across Iran following the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who died in police custody in September after being detained by morality police for allegedly breaking the strict rules around head coverings.

The death sparked huge protests against the Islamic Republic, rapidly escalating into calls for the overthrow of the Islamic theocracy that has governed Iran since its 1979 revolution. Human rights activists claiming that more than 400 protesters have been killed and 16,800 others arrested in a crackdown by Iran's security forces since September.

The protesters say they are fed up after decades of social and political repression, and deny having any foreign agenda and have spread across the country and drawn support from artists, athletes and other public figures.

US Iran flag row

The Iranian Football Federation complained to FIFA about the USA removing the Islamic Republic symbol from the nation’s flag in some social media posts.

With official diplomatic relations between the two countries having been cut in 1980, there is also a political undercurrent against a backdrop of widespread anti-government protests in Iran.

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The US Soccer Federation claimed it was to show support of protests in Iran by not using country's flag on social media posts stating they "wanted to show support for the women in Iran fighting for basic human rights", although the social media posts now show the flag of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Gregg Berhalter quizzed on US warships and tensions with Iran

US captain Tyler Adams was quizzed on racism in American and Gregg Berhalter was even asked about warships in the Persian Gulf. Asked by Iranian journalists why he hasn’t asked US Government to move a U.S. Navy vessel from Persian Gulf, the 49-year-old head coach responded, ‘I don’t know enough about politics, I’m a soccer coach.’”

He urged the media to focus on the match rather than political matters.

“When I think about this match, I know that a lot of other constituents have another feeling towards it, but for us, it is a soccer game against a good team. It’s not much more,” said Berhalter, who stressed none of the coaches or players had been made aware of the social media posts before they went online.

“It’s a knockout game, both teams want to go to the next round and are desperate to go to the next round – and that’s how we’re looking at this match. We are very focused on what we do as a team, as are they.”

Berhalter added: “I don’t want to sound aloof or not caring, but the guys have worked really hard for the last four years.

“We have 72 hours between England and Iran. We really are just focused on how to get past Iran to go to the knockout stage of the tournament.

“Of course our thoughts are with the people, the whole country, the whole team, everyone – but our focus is on this match.

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“We are not looking backwards – there is no talk about the performance against Wales or England now.

“It is really focused on how we can be successful against Iran, and what I see from the group is this tremendous amount of focus, there is no real distractions.

“I know there is a lot going on here, but the group is focused on how do we get a way (into the last 16).”

Carlos Queiroz quizzed over Iran flag

Iran head coach Carlos Queiroz was also quizzed over the flag row, but said he wanted to focus on the football. The coach was also applauded frequently by Iranian journalists mid answer.

“We have a strong belief that we can play good football tomorrow,” Quierez said. “Good football is the starting point to increase our opportunities to win, and this is exactly our focus.

“When we have the ball, we will try to keep it, enjoy it and to build up our opportunities.

“To win or not to win, this is in the hands of the gods of football and not in our control.”

Tyler Adams quizzed over Black Lives Matters

Tyler Adams was asked by Iran journalist about playing for a country where he says there is racism. Adams was asked: “

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"First of all, you say you support the Iranian people, but you're pronouncing our country's name wrong. Please once and for all, let's get this clear. Second of all, are you okay to be representing a country that has so much discrimination against black people in his own borders. And we saw the Black Lives Matter movement over the past few years. Are you okay to be representing the US meanwhile, there's so much discrimination happening against black people in America.”

In response, he apologised to the journalist, but insisted that his nation has made progress when it comes to discrimination. He responded saying:

“My apologies on the mispronunciation of your country. That being said there's discrimination everywhere you go. One thing that I've learned, especially from living abroad in the past years and having to fit in different cultures and kind of assimilate into different cultures is that in the US, we're continuing to make progress every single day.

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